The New Young Reviewers Program (previously, Teenjur Young Critics), supported by the Jon Kaplan Legacy Fund, is a workshop series and writing group for emerging theatre and performance reviewers Canada-wide, ages 15 and up.
Led by Signy Lynch (Contemporary Theatre Review, Canadian Theatre Review, Intermission Magazine) and Stephanie Fung (Kingston Theatre Alliance, Canadian Theatre Review, Single Thread Theatre), this program focuses on introducing participants to the basics of theatre reviewing and helped them develop responses to Toronto Fringe performances. It also encourages participants to explore new, creative approaches to criticism that are emerging in the field, and to begin to define themselves as critics and reviewers.
The Mystery of 107 Keeps Audiences on Their Toes
By Jenn Boulay
Is the saying true: “finders’ keepers, losers’ weepers”? In a thrilling metatheatrical mystery, Len Cuthbert’s 107 (produced by Fridge Door Live Theatre Company) is a show that keeps you on your toes.
The narrative focuses on two estranged cousins — Lennox and Morgan — who find a strange, yet interesting historical artifact in the woods. The next thing we know, an FBI agent, Agent Smith, shows up at Lennox’s apartment with an offer that the cousins turn over the artifact and keep their findings a secret. With a series of comedic, metatheatrical plot twists and rewrites to the play, an audience is bound to get caught up in this drama.
Between the comedy and the action that just draws you in, I was on the edge of my seat the throughout the performance. Being a young emerging artist and student, I found myself easily relating to the characters. It is the differences between the characters’ personalities and individual quirks that specifically drew me in.
The use of minimal set and well-used props showcased the strength of each of the cast members’ performances, immersing you into the story as if you were onstage, yourself. They did not distract or detract our attention away from the story–the balance of this was well-done.
For me, the most intriguing aspect of the show is the use of metatheatrical conventions. As Lennox is a playwright, we find ourselves in the midst of a rehearsal and continues to make rewrites during the play. The rehearsed rewrites of Lennox’s play add to the mystery and drives the disorienting plot twists that keep us on our toes.
I was left with questions of what I was meant to take away. Should secrets found be kept a secret? Is navigating the world as a struggling artist/student always messy? Did I suspend my belief, or was a witness to a rehearsal? I suggest you find out for yourself!
Your Silence Is Violence: Inside the Brilliance of X and Da Spirit
By Armon Ghaeinizadeh
Regis Korchinski-Paquet. Jalen Colley. Andrew Loku. Your Silence is Violence. Donovan Hayden has written a brilliant new piece about the struggle of Black people in Toronto and across Canada and America, as inspired by the spirit of their struggle felt through an artist’s mural.
SAY. THEIR. NAMES.
Do the names above mean anything to you? Have you heard them before? George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sammy Yatim, with well over a dozen names listed on this visually stunning set (the best one I’ve seen at Fringe by far). One of the creators (Donovan Hayden), when speaking to a mother who lost her son, tells us that her wish is that we do everything we can to ensure these individuals are not forgotten, and that the list does not continue to grow.
Your privilege may be showing, but what was refreshing about the brilliant new work is that nobody is mad at you for it: all they would like is for you to do is something, anything with it. Instead of solely deep-diving into Black trauma, this show explored the Black experience and struggle masterfully while exploring Black joy through play with the audience, music, movement, rap, call-and-response chants, and meaningful audience engagement.
I cried, I laughed, I listened, and I learned. This is the best show I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe so run and get your tickets to X and Da Spirit NOW. Everyone needs to hear and experience the absolute magic that Rais Clarke-Mendes has orchestrated with phenomenally talented performances by Donovan Hayden and Trinity Lloyd.
What does it mean to be a good ally? Pass the microphone when you can, donate where you can, show up when you can, protest when you can, because the struggle is tiring. What lightens the load is when you refuse to be quiet and join your brothers in their fight. Every element of this production was simply stunning, an absolute must see. Go witness theatre at its finest.
REVIEW: Flowers for Alex at Diamond Heart Productions
By Ethan Joshua
Editor’s note: Ethan briefly worked with the Flowers for Alex team on an early iteration of the project.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, just the stories about them.” That is what I remember reminding myself when I watched Flowers for Alex at the Tarragon Theatre. While I was unconvinced that there was a ghost onstage, I could sympathize with what this ghost story was trying to tell.
Jesse accidentally kills his best friend Alex in a tragic ‘driving-while-drunk’ scenario. However, when Alex returns as a ghost, Jesse comes to embrace the supernatural so that he can resolve the issues destroying him in real life, like alcoholism and depression.
The play redefined what it is to be a ‘supporting character’ in Alex (although the two characters share a pretty equal number of lines). The conclusion to his life goes past being able to forgive Jesse but genuinely supporting him through his struggles. Flowers for Alex, therefore, I thought was a misleading yet interesting title, because it’s almost as if Alex is the one giving the flowers.
While the text presented a complex perspective on allyship, as a live performance Flowers for Alex prioritized concept over execution. Most predominately, the distractions from lighting and props ultimately took away from the play’s social impact. The entire duration of the show had on this harshly-lit lamp, and my eyes got directly hit by a beam of light from the reflective surface of the scrapbook used. Sure, I can understand that these small observations can go over people’s heads. At the same time, we all have a responsibility to continually ask if content is accessible on and off the stage. Especially for shows with heavy subject matter, it can be what separates a good reception from a great one.
COVID Clownery and Inside Ethel: Outside
By Za Hughes
With some of the worst luck, Ethel’s story begins when she defeats her agoraphobia and ventures outside while the first pandemic lockdown rolls into effect. Inside Ethel Outside, produced by NAC Productions and playing at Native Earth’s Aki Studio, follows the clown protagonist (Christine Moynihan) who becomes locked out of her house when she leaves to visit her son and now must navigate the quarantined world.
The irony of the premise deepens the humour characteristic to clown form. Clown often takes a character, idea, or societal norm and creates humour through reversal or exaggeration which artists use to critique, provoke, or poke fun. This form offers opportunity for creativity and character-driven story, but artists need to be conscious of clown’s potential for insensitivity.
With the clown, Ethel, it feels as if the creative team did not consider how Ethel’s “quirks” and the growing social awareness around mental health might leave audience members with questions. Ethel’s behaviour — from her agoraphobia, physical action of lining up chairs perfectly before sitting, and the fairy godmother character that may only be visible to her — leaves me unsure if Ethel is a very particular elderly lady living in a fantastical world (similar to our own but with touches of magic), or if she is struggling with mental health issues that the audience is expected to laugh at.
Within the frame of the story, Ethel is loveable, and wins over the audience as she celebrates her successes. Laughs bubble from audience members like hiccups as Ethel discovers the many uses of a mask. The clowning with pandemic props is funny, and does not feel tired after two years of near nonstop COVID talk. Though it is a little gross to watch someone pick up COVID-related trash and wear it themselves, there is one moment with Purell that had audiences crying out before cracking up.
Inside Ethel Outside, has promise and audience attention, but much of our enjoyment is lessened by questions of “Who does this clown represent?” And “is this show ‘punching down’?”
Joan & Olivia: A Sibling Rivalry Gone Too Far
By T.Y Jung
Anyone with siblings probably knows what it’s like to have a competitive relationship with them, but when does that rivalry become too much?
Joan & Olivia – A Hollywood Ghost Story, written by Georgia Findlay and directed by Matt Eger, follows two real-life Hollywood stars and the only sisters in history to have both won an Academy Award for acting. Set in a fictional setting after their death, the two are stuck haunting their childhood home and mentor two new sisters who move in, passing their sibling rivalry down to a new generation.
Findlay does an excellent job at executing this idea through the comedic text and playful dynamics between both pairs of sisters. We have just enough time to understand the relationship between Joan and Olivia, before the two new and naive sisters enter with their youthful energy. All four characters were charismatic, flawed, and unique in their own colour. Although some lines were lost due to unclear diction, the cast gave an enjoyable performance. Special mention goes to Mackenzie Kelly for her memorable monologue towards the end of the show.
With a set that complemented the story adequately with its designs and placements, Joan & Olivia managed to complete a full arch within the hour of the show. However, there were a couple of transitions and time jumps that could have been clearer. As well, there were several juxtapositions of scenes between the two pairs of dead and living sisters that, while they were very entertaining to watch, could have been executed with more natural and smoother blocking and dialogue.
This play dives into the complexity of adversary and betrayal, and how unspoken feelings can lead to irreversible consequences. For a first-time playwright, this is an impressive debut for Findlay.
1-Man No-Show: An Interactive Commentary
By Visaree Bradshaw-Coore
If you want a return to theatre to jumpstart your feeling 1-Man No-Show is a good start. Eccentric and very interactive, this show presents Isaac Kessler the solo performer as they take on a role I can only compare as a friendly, comedic camp counsellor to the audience. A ZeekTech Production, you can catch this show at Streetcar Crowsnest’s Guloien Theatre. This show does come with some warnings, it involves sexual themes and potential interactive sexual jokes. There is also another potential warning I must bring up, the potential to have saliva on stage (might have just been my specific show, though). I just thought it was an important fact to bring up given the current global circumstances and people’s personal comfort levels.
The show did feel a bit rushed at times. As an audience member, I was left to feel like the show was thrown together at the last second. Although I don’t believe that to be true, it felt like that at times due to the dead air in between setting up bits. Either way, this show brought something even better to the table, LIGHTS! I’ll admit first-hand, I’m a sucker for lights and shadows. The tech, practically a character itself, is as interactive as tech can be and used most interestingly. It’s impressive to have been able to do so much with the tech in such a short amount of time.
If you’re interested in exploring the ridiculousness or absence thereof of vague pretentious art while chucking it up and getting moving, then this show is the one for you.